February 5, 2023

One mother said she was unable to get antibiotics for her four children who had Strep A for almost a week.

Sarah Zahra and her husband searched more than 25 pharmacies in Kent and London for medicines for her daughter and three sons.

Ms Zahra, from Hempstead, has been caring for her eldest son Hugo, seven, since being diagnosed with Strep A on 13 December.

Her other children, five-year-old Leo, and twins Mia and Max, 16 months, also had symptoms of scarlet fever.

The family’s saga began after Sarah spent more than two hours on the phone with 911 describing each child’s condition, trying to get a prescription.

“All of my children had been prescribed amoxicillin, but we couldn’t get it anywhere, in any pharmacy near or far from us,” said Sarah.

“My husband and I called and visited over 25 pharmacies in Medway and Dartford. A friend of ours even tried some in London and none had it in stock.”

Ms. Zahra managed to find the medication this week and her children are starting to feel better, but until then she feared their health would deteriorate further.

She said: “It was really worrying for me not to get these antibiotics.

“My twins had really red rashes on their faces, which is a sign of scarlet fever. Their throats were also sore, they were very irritable and had no appetite.

“I appreciate that we have four children, so of course we need four plots, which is more difficult, but we have not been able to get any at all.

“This whole situation is really worrying. I don’t think people realize how complicated it really is.

“You just expect to get a prescription and go get it. But none of the pharmacies have anything in stock.

“People from work and friends came by and my husband drove through Kent to find something for our kids.

“It worries me that other parents may not know there is a shortage. It was very scary, especially when your children are very poor. I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

Doctors and pharmacists in Kent say they are concerned they cannot get key medicines to treat the viral infection, which has claimed the lives of 15 children in the UK since September.

The problem has been exacerbated in the past two weeks as an increasing number of concerned parents are pushing for prescriptions, which in some cases are not necessary, for young people.

And pharmaceutical companies have been accused of price hikes with pharmacists saying they are out of pocket because they can only recover a fraction of the bill from the NHS.

Dr. Julian Spinks, who runs operations across Medway, and consultant pharmacist Sunil Kochhar, based in Gravesend, have both faced not enough antibiotics to meet demand.

Frustration with the government

They are frustrated that the government insists there is no shortage and wholesalers blame any shortage on an unprecedented spike in demand, they said.

Dr. Spinks said: “We’ve been told there’s no shortage nationwide, but that’s not what’s happening locally. Parents are worried about sore throat infections and Strep A. The increase in calls can’t match the demand.”

Every day he gets up at 6am to see what’s available and shops around to check stock.

He said: “We understandably get anxious parents lashing out at our team because they are worried about what they hear about Strep A.

“But we’re in the middle. Some think we’re reluctant to give drugs. It’s a vicious circle.”

He has also criticized the government for spreading “mixed messages”, saying: “When there are enough antibiotics, we don’t see them.”

Mr Kochhar said: “Strep A has been around for ten years and has not changed. It is the pandemic that has changed with children isolating themselves and not mingling socially in the classroom.

“And with the cost-of-living crisis, which means some aren’t turning on the heating, cold affects the immune system.”

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